How I Graduated College Debt Free and Survived

I graduated college debt free. Most people would say it’s impossible, but I’m living proof that it’s not!  It’s so rare these days that most people I tell my story to don’t believe me. Maybe I should write a book on this haha.

I attended the prestigious University of Washington for four years and graduating without a single dollar of debt.  I actually graduated with a large surplus in my checking account! Although it was a lonely, hard road, you too can do it.  It takes sacrifice, perseverance, a little creativity, and lots of hard work.

The key is to ignore the people around you.  No, no, not like that.  I mean ignore what other people are DOING AROUND YOU.  This means ignoring friends buying new cars, friends taking out loans for tuition, ignoring friends eating out all the time, and ignoring friends with expensive hobbies.  All these things take a significant amount of money.  If you don’t have the money to do it, don’t go into debt when you have a tuition bill looming over your head!  It’s all about your frame of mind.

If you are focused on the long term goal, which was graduating debt free for me, then the actions of people around you now shouldn’t phase you!  If anything this type of thinking should excite you! You’re doing something completely against the “American way” and doing something totally unique.  And if anything else, you will have an amazing story to tell your friends, family, and children someday.

These are simple, common steps I took to prevent college debt:

I drove an old car

During my senior year in high school I was blessed with the opportunity to buy a friend’s Geo Prizm for $500.  Yes, it was a Geo, you heard me right.  My pride is still intact!  The key here is to drive a low maintenance vehicle that gets good gas mileage.  This is especially crucial if you live off campus and commute.

I lived at home

This is a no-brainer.  Free food, free cable, free internet, free EVERYTHING. Thankfully, I am blessed to have been raised in a wonderful family, so living at home was an easy choice for me.  Living at home will cut out hundreds of dollars in expenses every month.

I worked A LOT

I did some type of work at least 5 days a week for all four years of college.  It seems like I worked everywhere.  Let’s look at the laundry list: produce clerk at Safeway, desk manager at a local gym, carpenter, and multiple paid internships.

Ran my own side gigs

The beauty of side gigs is that your pay is significantly higher than typical college jobs.  I consistently ran two side gigs, landscaping services and furniture moving services.  I made roughly $15/hour mowing lawns, weeding yards, and pruning bushes.  I would bring a radio and lanscape away.  You can;t be afraid to get your hands dirty!  The real money maker for me was furniture relocation.  I make $25/hour pretty consistently and never had trouble finding clients for weekend work.  I advertised on Craig’s List and even set up my own website.  It was a hard way to make money, but you can’t beat $25/hour!

Rarely ate out

I remember time after time, friends asking me to go eat out at restaurants.  And I remember time after time saying “No thanks!”  I’m sure some thought I was being rude, but I had a goal and a silly thing like eating out was not going to stop me!  I packed brown bag lunches and brought snacks from home as many times as I could.  Thank you Mom!

I had a cheap hobby 

Having a cheap hobby is critical during college.  My finances were tight so I didn’t want to get into any expensive hobbies.  Mine ended up (and still is) being bodybuilding. Since I worked out at my college gym, it was free. Also, food wasn’t that expensive due to living at home.

Shopped at Ross for clothes

Ross is still my favorite place to shop!  When everyone around me was buying $200 designer jeans, I was buying $20 Levi’s.  I’ve never been a materialistic person, so maybe that helped.  I’m not going to lie, I was definitely tempted at times to buy expensive clothes.  To be honest, it’s not worth it.  Over the years, I’ve learned that improving your personality is far more important than trying to impress people, let alone, people you don’t even know.

Attended an in-state University

When I was researching colleges, I considered out of state schools.  But I just couldn’t justify the cost difference.  University of Washington was $6,000/year where as most out of state schools averaged $20,000/year. Quite the savings huh?

And there you have it guys! These are tried and true ways I graduated college with zero dollars of debt.  It is possible!  Comment below if you have more tips.